A federal judge has found that Tukwila police violated the rights of an undocumented Honduran man they arrested and turned over to immigration authorities after he had called police to report someone was breaking into his car.
The order by U.S. District Judge Richard Jones means that a civil-rights lawsuit filed by Wilson Rodriguez Macareno can go to a jury, and exposes two Tukwila officers to the possibility of punitive damages for detaining, handcuffing and turning Macareno over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents after he had called the police for help. Jones stopped short, however, of holding the Tukwila Police Department responsible for inadequate training or endorsing the officers’ behavior.
Rachel Bianchi, a spokeswoman for the city, said Tukwila officials would not comment on the ruling due to the pending litigation.
Macareno, 33, the father of three, has acknowledged that he entered the U.S. illegally in 2004 after fleeing gang violence in his native Honduras, according to court documents and previous statements by his attorneys. His children were born in the U.S. and are citizens, his attorneys have said.
He was arrested on Feb. 8, 2018, after he had called police to report someone trespassing in his yard. Two officers initially responded, and according to court documents Macareno freely offered that he was “illegal.” An officer checked his Washington state-issued identification card, as well as identification from a co-worker, and found that Macareno had an outstanding immigration warrant for his removal from the U.S.
The first two officers who had responded left at this point, after issuing the trespasser a warning. However, two other officers who had responded, identified as Craig Gardner and Joel Thomas, handcuffed Macareno, telling him they intended to contact ICE.
They told him that he had not committed any crime and would be released if federal immigration authorities did not respond. ICE said they would take him, however, and the officers transported Macareno to a detention facility.
Matt Adams, an attorney for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which represented Macareno, said the man has been released and is back with his family.
Much of this back and forth was captured on body camera video and audio, and the judge noted that Gardner lamented that the state “issues IDs to everyone” and reportedly stated his hope that these issues will be settled “during these four years.” He then instructed Thomas to turn off his body camera.
The arrest sent ripples of concern throughout law enforcement and with immigration-rights advocates, with concerns being raised that people in the country illegally will not call or cooperate with police or report crimes out of fear of arrest or reprisal. The order states the arrest violated the Tukwila Police Department’s internal policies, and resulted in the City Council passing an ordinance specifically prohibiting police from detaining individuals based on ICE administrative warrants.
Tukwila is one of King County’s most diverse cities, with more than 40 percent of its population consisting of people of color.
The city has struggled with police civil-rights violations in the past, paying out more than $1.5 million in damages between 2014 and 2016 for cases involving alleged excessive use of force, mostly against people of color.
In his order, handed down Wednesday, Judge Jones stated that it is well-established law in the 9th Circuit — which includes Washington — that “unlike illegal entry, mere unauthorized presence in the United States is not a crime” and that the officers had no right to detain, handcuff or arrest Macareno.
Moreover, he wrote, the comments and actions by Thomas and Gardner lamenting the issuance of identification to “illegals,” along with the openly expressed hope that the “next four years” will resolve the issues — and then turning off the body cameras — leaves open the possibility of a racial motivation, exposing the two officers to punitive damages.
“A jury is best-suited to determine whether Thomas and Gardner acted with racial animus, or in reckless or callous indifference to plaintiff’s established constitutional rights, particularly given the fact that plaintiff called the police as the victim of a potential crime,” Jones wrote.